George Floyd: A year of stories from Deseret News
From anger to hope, what journalists and writers from the Deseret News reported on during a year of protests and police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death
It allegedly started with a counterfeit $20 bill, a pack of cigarettes and a viral video of a Black man dying in police custody in Minnesota.
But the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, — just one year ago — has echoed far from the streets of Minneapolis and into national calls for police reform and renewed efforts of racial justice throughout the United States.
During the past year, journalists and writers for Deseret News have reported on those difficult conversations of social justice and policing. Some of those stories are found here, and they aim to capture the pain and heartbreak of loss and the generations-old sting of racism.
But there is also hope in some of these stories. Hope that the felt national ache is actually growing pains and that through so much loss there is justice and change.
As the Deseret News’ Jasen Lee wrote, “now is the time to use this tragedy to be the impetus for fulfilling the aspiring principle of recognizing every person‘s humanity. If we fail, then we fail ourselves.”
How it started: ‘I can’t breathe’
The viral video of George Floyd’s May 25, 2020, death showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, kneeling on the handcuffed Black man’s torso and neck.
In one of the videos of the incident, Floyd, who is pinned face down to the blacktop, is heard telling officers he can’t breathe — a refrain that would latter become a rallying cry of police brutality protesters.
- Chauvin, along with three other officers who were on the scene, were fired the next day.
- “If you let your coworker do that to another human being without trying to stop him or talk to him out of it, you are as guilty as he is. Frustrating for the majority of good cops that take a lot of risk doing their job the right way everyday,” Utah Jazz basketball star Rudy Gobert said on Twitter at the time, the Deseret News reported.
‘No justice, no peace’
In the days after Floyd’s death, police brutality protests erupted across the country —including in Salt Lake City.
On May 30, thousands of marchers — at times chatting “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” — clashed with hundreds of police officers and National Guard soldiers in downtown Salt Lake City and at the Utah Capitol, the Deseret News reported at the time.
- Protesters destroyed or damaged several police vehicles, vandalized several buildings and tossed rocks and water bottles at law enforcements officers, while police used smoke grenades and nonlethal firearms to try and disperse the crowd.
- Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall ordered an 8 p.m. curfew, which lasted through the weekend and police eventually cleared the street.
- Dozens of protesters were arrested and both demonstrators and law enforcements officers were injured during the uprising.
Two days later, on June 1, protesters again took to Salt Lake City’s street to march against police brutality and on behalf of racial justice, but this event was much more peaceful, according to the Deseret News.
- The marchers led chants of “I can’t breathe” and carried signs calling for justice for Floyd.
- Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, encouraged the protesters to remain peaceful as they marched toward a police formation — and they did.
- In two small instances when protesters and law enforcements officer did clash, the police response was measured and protesters rebuked their own for escalating tensions.
What would Jesus do?
An immediate outcome of Floyd’s death, and the protests that followed, was national conversations that arose around civil rights and American policing.
One question inspired by the social justice protests was a familiar one to those in the religious community, the Deseret News reported: What would Jesus do?
- “Some people are called to be on the streets and some people aren’t. Some people are called to offer a supportive presence in one form or another, while others are just called to pray,” Bishop Mariann Budde, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., told the Deseret News last summer. She added that no Christians are called to remain silent if people are suffering.
- “The one thing Christians cannot do is to look away,” said Rev. Budde.
- “We need to seek engagement and social justice. The world would be a better place if we just follow the original tenets, teachings and examples of Jesus of Nazareth,” said Rev. Amos C. Brown — a civil rights leader, pastor and chairman of the NAACP’s religious affairs — to the Deseret News.
Another question was how law enforcement and political leaders should respond to protests, what some consider a political problem and not a policing problem.
- “Protesting is a political activity and the problem it is highlighting requires political solutions. I think that’s really important for people to think about,” said U.S. Naval War College associate professor Lindsay Cohen, the Deseret News reported. “Obviously criminal activity should be dealt with, but treating all protesters as criminals because a few are is neither helpful nor appropriate.”
- Cohen — who added that her views are not necessarily those of the Naval War College — said there are additional considerations political leaders should make before deploying military forces, like the National Guard, to squelch protest. Those considerations include the manner in which soldiers will be deployed and the “awkward position” citizens-soldiers may be placed in while policing their own communities, according to the Deseret News.
A police officer is found guilty of murder. A nation reacts
On April 20, 2021, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
- “The jury joined in a shared conviction that has animated Minneapolis for the last 11 months. They refused to look away and affirmed he should still be here today,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey of the guilty verdict, the Deseret News reported.
- “The trial was fair and due process was served. We hope and expect all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come,” said Patrick Yoes — the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police — in a statement after the conviction was announced.
- The “men and women who wear the badge serve their communities honorably,” President Joe Biden said in speech after the verdict was announced. The president said systemic racism was a “stain on our nation’s soul” and he encouraged Congress to send “meaningful police reform” to the Oval Office, reported the Deseret News.
In Utah, hope replaces anger
Peaceful protest again broke out in Salt Lake City after Chauvin’s conviction was announced on April 20, “but a sense of renewed hope appeared to replace anger,” wrote KSL’s Ashley Imlay and Carter Williams — who reported on the protest.
- “It knocks the wind out of you. I’ve never seen justice before today, and that was a long road to see it,” said Scott with Black Lives Matter Utah at the protest, KSL reported.
- “While Scott said she’s happy for Floyd’s family, she added, ‘I feel like we have a mixture of sadness and of happiness, just for the simple fact that we shouldn’t have to celebrate a murderer being convicted of murder. It shouldn’t be that rare for a police officer who murders someone to be convicted of murder,’” reported KSL.
Other leaders in Utah also responded to the conviction and agreed justice had been delivered for Floyd.
- Former Congresswoman Mia Love, R-Utah, said on Twitter that, “Justice was served, but let’s remember the life that was lost. This is justice that no family should ever have to await. Let’s all do our part to improve and heal our shared nation.”
- Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in an April 20 statement reported by KSL, “Today, America’s judicial system worked and justice was done for George Floyd. The verdict is an important step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. I pray that all Americans build on this progress in creating a better tomorrow for everyone.”
Deseret News reporter Jasen Lee wrote, how Chauvin’s conviction was personal to him as a Black man.
- “Every time I think of the video, I have a visceral reaction because I see myself under Chauvin’s knee. As a Black man, I know that could have been me!”
- “I’m not sure what it will take to stem the tide of discord between police and African Americans. I know a good start would be holding law enforcement accountable for actions that result in serious injury or death to individuals who are handcuffed and compliant. I know that if officers and prosecutors alter their thinking to see an individual’s humanity, not just as a suspect or criminal to be discarded and disregarded.”
- “No matter how you look at it, this is and always has been a no-win situation. George Floyd can never be with his family, his friends and now neither will the man responsible for taking his life. At least Chauvin got due process. That was denied Floyd and so many others like him.”